If you build it, they won’t necessarily come

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A sunny afternoon on the waterfront,

live music, beer and food – sounds like the makings of a great party. At least that’s what I thought Friday evening as I delayed the front page of Saturday’s paper so we could get in a photo from the first concert

at Constant’s Wharf.

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The photo we used showed about seven members of a couple families relaxing on the new sod behind the Hilton Garden Inn enjoying the music. What the caption didn’t say was that the seven members of the Johnson and Griffin families we featured represented a large percentage of the total turnout.

So if the city uses its standard criteria for decision-making,

then the first concert at the Constant’s Wharf Park Friday will be the last. If you recall,

after only a few people showed up for a public meeting to discuss the possible direct election of the mayor, Mayor Bobby Ralph said that since nobody showed,

the logical conclusion is that they are happy with the current method of selecting the mayor. I suppose the logical conclusion from the turnout at Friday’s concert is that Suffolk residents are not interested in waterfront concerts and were satisfied with the way things were before $20 million-plus was spent on the hotel/conference center development.

Sarcasm aside, I was more than a little surprised to that there were only about three dozen people milling around at the site more than an hour after the event got under way. The turnout was so dismal that I felt sorry for the salsa band, Bio-Ritmo, which was really good.

I’m sure officials were disappointed. It’s difficult to say why turnout was so poor. It could be that Suffolkians don’t like salsa music, or we’re just not the type of people who like to do things.

It’s likely, however,

that the reason the event was such a failure was that it was not marketed. While there may have been some, I’ll be darned if I can recall seeing any advertising for the event. It was mentioned a few times in news stories, but that’s not the same thing. And with the size of the public investment involved in putting this event on, I’d think a few large ads in the local newspaper or a television commercial might have be in order.

You can have the nicest restaurant in the world, in the coolest setting, with the best chef, but nobody is going to show up if you don’t advertise. I think that’s what happened here. The city has sunk millions into the hotel, the cultural arts center and generally resurrecting downtown. While that’s the hard part, that in and of itself is not going to get people to come and see it. The key to success is letting people know about it.

No awards for downtown revitalization – no matter how deserved – are going to bring people here. The only thing that will do that is advertising.

If you build it, they won’t necessarily come.

It’s the same thing with the Suffolk Farmers Market. It’s a wonderful event and I try to get down there every chance I get. But it’s sparsely attended because the investment has not been made to entice people to come.

And that’s a shame. Suffolk has a lot to be proud of. I’m among those who think city officials made the right move investing downtown, but if it’s not seriously marketed,

all that money – along with a lot of hard work by a lot of people – will have been wasted. It’s obvious, too, that the message needs to be marketed to more than just out-of-towners. Attendance at the farmer’s market and the concert shows that we need to start by marketing to our own residents. If they knew what cool things these were, they would be there.

Yes, I’m in the advertising business and very biased where it’s concerned. Be that as it may, I’m also right. And I would also be remiss at this point by not noting that Suffolk News-Herald, in combination with the Tidewater Shopper, reaches more households than any other publication,

and at a lower cost.

It might be a good idea for the city to take some of the money it is using to conduct citizen surveys so it can send slick mass mailings telling us how tickled we are with everything

city council is doing and plow it into touting the wonderful things we have to offer. It will be money well spent.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald. He can be reached at 934-9611 or via email at andy.prutsok@suffolknewsherald.com.